Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: eternity future

Our desire for peace, fulfilled

There is so much strife and turmoil in our world.  The nightly news is full of what went wrong during the day.  The internet is always ready to show you the ugliness that us human beings can manufacture.  We feel divided by every available category.  We want to see peace, but we just don’t see a way for it to happen.  And yet…our longing for peace suggests that somehow, it’s possible…

Now is the time to use our sanctified imagination.  Try to imagine what John is seeing:

Revelation 21:9-11
Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God’s glory.  Her radiance was like a precious jewel, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.

John was doing his best to describe to his readers what he was witnessing.  Jasper was a precious stone in Bible times.  As it is known today, jasper’s appearance is more opaque than clear.  Using today’s terms, we would probably refer the New Jerusalem as a brilliant diamond (a stone which was not known as a jewel in Bible times). 

John continues:

Revelation 21:12-14
The city had a massive high wall, with twelve gates.  Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates.  There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.  The city wall had twelve foundations, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb were on the foundations.

Interestingly enough, we see reference to both the Old and New Testament people of God…living in the same place, but yet they are still distinctly identified.  The Holy City will be a beautiful place of peace for those who love God, no matter what age they lived in. 

This is the ultimate fulfillment of what Paul explained to the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:11-3:6
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh…at that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 
For He is our peace, who made both groups one…so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.  He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross…the Gentiles are
(now, together with believers from Israel) coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The distance from each other the and divide between us and God has been bridged because He is our peace.  The peace we want can only be found in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  That peace we can have right now, when we accept Jesus’ offer of eternal life.  Although we long to live in a peaceful society, we can take comfort knowing that our desire for a peaceful world will ultimately be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.

For that, I am a very thankful Gentile…and I can’t wait to see Christ’s work of reconciliation and peace displayed in Eternity Future and the New Jerusalem.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Free "Life water"

After the proclamation goes out for the arrival of New Jerusalem city, God himself adds to the announcement:

Revelation 21:5
Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

The apostle John has just witnessed this magnificent city’s inauguration event.  Imagine how overwhelmed John must have felt in that moment.  So much to see and take in. For me, I’m sure it would have been a sensory overload. And then…God turns and speaks directly to John…while that alone would have me quaking, look at what God says:

Revelation 21:5-6
He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The culmination of human history is at hand.  John is witnessing all of it, and God rightfully declaring Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the A-to-Z.  From Eternity Past, His plan…which began with the Genesis creation has now come to an end…and His path forward will now lead into Eternity Future. 

It’s what God states in the next sentence that is really quite striking:

Revelation 21:6
I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.

Free?  No cost?  If I’m thirsty for life…real life, as we were created to be…then the God of the universe will simply give it to me?

Most certainly, YES!  To start a new relationship with God, to become a new creation, all that is “required” is the acceptance of God’s gift…to accept Jesus’ offer of Eternal Life, which He alone can give because He made the substitute payment for our sins.

No need fix ourselves, no need to prove ourselves worthy (either before OR after accepting the gift), no striving required, no strings attached…this gift is freely given.

Jesus had previously spoken about the water of life, and He also spoke of it in terms of a gift:

John 4:14
But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.

Lest we think that this water is only for a select group of people, one of the last proclamations in the book of Revelation declares:

Revelation 22:17
…Let the one who is thirsty come.  Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.

No strings attached.  No restrictions.  All who are thirsty are welcome, and they will be satisfied.

Have you accepted God’s invitation?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Rewind / Fast-Forward

We’re going to rewind human history – not quite to the beginning – but back to someone who was given a fantastic promise: 

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance.  He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God

And then the author describes the mindset of Abraham and his family:

Hebrews 11:13-14, 16
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 

Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

That desire for a homeland isn’t unique to Abraham’s family.  All Christians have felt it.  Deep down, we recognize that there is more to this life…that God has something planned, a future place for us to live.

A little later, the author of Hebrews confirms our inklings:

Hebrews 13:14
For we do not have an enduring city here
[presently on Earth]; instead, we seek the one to come.

What is this city?  What is it like?

In order to view the city Abraham was looking forward to, the city whose architect and builder is God, we must now hit fast-forward on human history.

Past the Rapture of believers, past the Tribulation, past Christ’s second coming, past Christ’s 1000 year reign, and after the Great White Throne Judgment…

God gave the apostle John a preview of our home in eternity future.  John discussed what he saw and heard in the last two chapters of the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

Today’s Christians are typically hesitant to read Revelation.  We’re hampered by our own thoughts of “It probably won’t make any sense” or “The discussion of judgments and punishments on people makes me uncomfortable” or “Only mentally unstable people and crazy preachers discuss what’s in that book”…and yet, God saw fit to include this prophecy.  His always fulfills his prophecies…even if the people he gave them to didn’t fully understand what they were hearing or if it takes a couple thousand years for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

In previous posts, we’ve seen that numerous Old Testament and New Testament writers – and even Jesus himself – discussed eternity future.  We’ve looked at a small selection of passages which confirm our longings for that time, and there are plenty more that we could have looked at.

God desires for us to see what eternity future will be like, so let’s not be afraid to look at it, even if we don’t fully grasp every detail.  We can read Revelation and walk away knowing one thing, with absolute certainty:

God wins.

He is not overtaken by the evil in our world.  His command of the universe is not diminished.  And the believers from all ages are magnificently included in His eternal plans…

Revelation 21:1-2
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Finally…the place that every believer in history has desired, it has arrived.  Everything new, everything different.  The Creator has re-created…and if He called the first creation “good”, I don’t know if we have an adequate word on this planet to describe the beauty of the new heaven and the new earth.

Pause for just a moment and think about the Holy City...prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  Guys, was there ever a time when your wife was more stunningly beautiful than the day of your wedding?  Ladies, remember how much attention to every detail and how much assistance was given, in order that you would be the most prepared, most lovely bride ever to walk down the aisle…and how much your mere reflection radiated beauty?  Combine those observations, and we get a sliver of a sample of how spectacular the Holy City will be.

And that place is our home.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tunnel-vision trap

Tunnel vision is almost never a good thing, and it can be an easy trap to fall into if we get wrapped up in the troubles of this world.  Politics, in all nations, is a mess – but we fret and twist and turn and argue about them.  Overall, humans haven’t taken great care of the environment, and we can get sole-focused worried about correcting our influence.  We inflict pain on each other, on a scale that ranges from our nearby neighbors and that reaches other countries – and they do the same back to us.  Watch any news broadcast, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s tunnel-visioned issue being presenting at that moment.

Christians are also capable of falling into this tunnel-vision trap.  We can get so wrapped up in church issues, community issues, and even just the day-to-day grind that we forget about the larger picture God is painting.  God’s plan for humans started at Creation and stretches all the way into Eternity Future. 

Thankfully, God left us reminders.  During his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul discussed how our present identity in Christ relates to our Eternity Future:

Romans 8:16-18
The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children also heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

The troubles of this world and the suffering we all encounter – personal, health, and for being a Christian – can really bog us down.  We can easily become tunnel-visioned on all that is wrong with the world and wonder if any of this “Christian stuff” is worth it.  But when we keep this glory-filled future in mind, our perspective changes and we begin to see the world around us differently.  If fact, Paul also tells us that the creation itself is also looking forward to the revealing of that glory in us:

Romans 8:19-21
For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

When Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, all of creation was frustrated, muted, and corrupted – and it hasn’t been fixed yet.  At times in nature, we seem to get a glimpse of a deeper beauty, or the potential for something greater…but that notion is fleeting at best.  However, when God brings humans back to the perfection we were created for, the creation will be liberated as well.

Romans 8:22-23
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.  Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Both the creation and Christians are yearning for this future renewal.  This longing for newness will be fulfilled.  Until then, it is good to recognize our desire for our eternal home with Christ.  It keeps today’s difficulties in perspective:

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Eternal questions

Sometimes being a Christian is tiring, right?  I mean, we may not admit it, but constantly striving to make the right choices, say encouraging things, loving people that we don’t want to, helping others, giving hard-earned money away to church or charity…and on and on and on…all these things are enough to wear us out.  And then throw in sickness and disease and selfishness and greed and all the other bad things we encounter…it can make us want to throw up our hands and fire off a few questions at God.

They were probably something along the lines of

Why am I persevering in the Christian life now?
Is all this trouble worth it in the long run?
What really happens – and does any of this matter – at the end of all things?

Those kinds of questions were not unique us.  Paul answered similar questions in both of his letter to the believers in Thessalonica.  Paul also addressed these topics with the believers in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul then continues his comparison of our present state with our eternal destiny:

2 Corinthians 5:1-2
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in
[our earthly bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God, and eternal dwelling [a glorified, resurrection body] in the heavens, not made with hands.  Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling…

Peter also wrote about the same things to believers:

2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for the day of God…But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

During his last night on earth, one of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples contained a peculiar promise, but it was a promise that was to motivate the disciples during the time that Jesus would no longer be physically with them:

John 14:1-3
Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Mentionings like these are not isolated to the New Testament either.  As just one example, God told Isaiah:

Isaiah 65:17
For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.

These are just a few examples, but they show us that God has a long term course for human history planned out…and these verses confirm what we inwardly desire – relationship and purpose with our Creator.

If the world as we know it will pass away, what kind of lives should we live now?  When we feel troubled and shaken and our bodies are falling apart, Jesus wants us to trust Him and remember that He is coming back for us, to take us to a home that He designed…with us in mind.

When we recognize this longing for eternity that God has placed in our hearts, it helps us keep our present life in perspective.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

The biggest threat to your eternal rewards

Nothing wrecks a believer’s life faster than sexual immorality.  The author of Hebrews knew that, and he gave this warning to his readers:

Hebrews 12:16-17
And make sure that there isn’t any sexually immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.  For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.


There are portions of our lives where there are no take-backs.  We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sexual purity is one of them.  The author equates sexual immorality with godlessness (i.e. – acting like there is no God).  Both of these behaviors are selfish; they can completely wreck a believer’s life and witness.  By using Esau as an example, the original recipients of this letter would have recognized the seriousness of our choices in these areas.

As a first-born, Esau was automatically entitled to a double portion of his parents’ estate and guaranteed that he would inherit the role of patriarch in the family’s lineage and decision making.  However, Esau thought so little of this inheritance that he was willing to trade all the future rights and privileges of a firstborn son…to fill his immediate, temporal appetite.  Sexual temptation is also like that.  The immediate appetite is satisfied…but the actions cannot be undone, our life’s course is altered, and the inheritance is lost…no matter how many tears we shed.

Does that mean if a Christian indulges in an affair that he or she are out of the family? 
Will God stop blessing them? 
Will they lose all inheritance?

No, they are not cast out of the family, but there will be permanent consequences – in this life, and in eternity future.  Esau is still our example for how we resolve our questions:

After trading away his future inheritance to fulfill his right-now appetite, Esau eventually returned to his father and repented of his actions, saying he would be content with any remaining blessing his father was able to grant him. 

From there, we find that Esau went on in life and was blessed by God – he even has his own chapter of family lineage and prosperity in Genesis 36.  However…Esau never regained his rights of firstborn inheritance.  Throughout the entire Bible and for all of eternity, the nation of Israel does not list Esau as one of their patriarchs.  Additionally, we consistently find God identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but we never find God describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

Because of his choices, Esau missed out on blessings and opportunities – both in this life and in eternity.  And the author of Hebrews is telling us that OUR sexual purity has that level of importance in God’s eyes.  However, if we blow it…all is not lost…some inheritance will be, but not all opportunity to earn more in the future.

Remember what the author taught us earlier:

Hebrews 4:15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.


There is grace to help us when we are being sexually tempted and we can receive mercy when we fail.  Our relationship with God will remain intact; however, the consequences of our sexual sin will echo throughout eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Our opportunity is larger than you think

After giving several serious warning throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews refreshes us with examples of regular people who have actually lived the kind of life he is urging his readers to choose – a life that is marked by actions that show we trust the Greater Messenger; that we are living for participation in a future kingdom.

We have now arrived at what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame”.  Hebrews 11 contains Old Testament examples of those who by faith trusted God with the message He gave them – and then they made life choices with that end in mind.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the words translated faith and believe are the same word in Greek, and are best defined as – to trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them

And in this context, the action to follow is the expectation that God will fulfill His promise of participation in a future kingdom.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 6
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.  For by it our ancestors won God’s approval…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.


If we do not believe the importance of the message, we won’t draw near to God.  All the faith heroes listed in this chapter are being commended for the actions in their individual lives that corresponded to their belief in the coming future that was promised by God.

Hebrews 11:13, 32-33, 39
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance…And what more can I say?  Time is too short for me to tell about [all of those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises…All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised


Wait.  What?

What do you mean, they didn’t receive it?  God promised it, so why didn’t they get it?

However, the author did says they obtained promises.  He continues:

Hebrews 11:40
God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.


Made perfect can also be translated to reach a goal, be fulfilled, or completed.

Let verse 40 sink in…read it a second time…and a fourth time…

God has decided to allow us (you and me!) participation in bringing about what Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, and all the OT heroes were longing to see, the fulfillment of their faith in God’s promises.

You are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told.  Will you?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Resolutions about maturity

It’s that time of year again…time to make resolutions to be better at something.  We know the big ones – get in shape, eat better, learn a new skill – and we know that we should do these things and they have lasting, positive benefits to our lives.  But why is it, that by sometime in February, we’ve given up on working towards them? 

When we’re honest – we recognize that we give up on these resolutions because we don’t value the end product highly enough.  We aren’t diligent in pursuing it, and we become lazy.  This doesn’t mean that we do not understand or fully trust the benefits of exercise, a good diet, or learning something new…it just shows that we value them less than other competing priorities in our lives.

Did you know that the same thing happens to us spiritually?  Other things crowd into our lives and we sometimes don’t value our growth as a Christ-follower or our relationship with God like we should.  We can become spiritually lazy.  It’s not a new problem for Christians, either.

After starting a discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest and reviewing some of the great benefits available to a believer who partners with Jesus, the author pauses to say:

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Looking at this passage, it is clear that this letter was written to people who have already accepted Christ as the substitutionary payment for their sins.  The solid food is the teaching that deals with righteousness, or right-living, before God.  Because these “big babies” haven’t progressed to solid food, they cannot grasp the implications of the Greater Message of future partnership with the Greater Messenger.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity

If you could travel into a mother’s womb and speak with the prenatal child, I’m sure he would be very confused as to why he was growing arms and legs and a mouth.  He has no real, tangible need for them so long as he remains in the womb.  However, we would desperately explain that while he sees little use for them in his present stage in life, they will become vitally important for the way he interacts with the world of his next stage of life.

The entire New Testament, except for John’s Gospel, speaks to us like we are the child still in the womb.  The vast majority of the New Testament is written to believers and contains encouragement to put in the effort now to grow towards maturity…because the level of maturity we develop here and now will directly impact how we interact with the world of our next stage of life.

Hebrews 6:11-12
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.

Keep at it.  Keep going towards maturity.  Not everyone does, but those who trust Jesus’ offer of partnership and patiently wait for it, they will obtain it.

That’s a resolution worth keeping, one with results that echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The effect of a Christian's unbelief

Just because Christians are in the “Holy” family doesn’t mean that we always behave like we are set apart for God.  This fact was also once recognized by a father of an epileptic boy when he told Jesus, “I do believe!  Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

The Greek work for unbelief refers to a lack of faith or a wavering amount of trust in someone.  The father believed that Jesus could help his son, but he was wavering on if Jesus would help and how much help He would give.  Unbelief isn’t referring to losing one’s eternal salvation (which does not happen); instead, this unbelief is our difficulty to fully trust what our Heavenly Father says He can and will do.  The author of Hebrews similarly used the same word:

Hebrews 3:12
Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God.

The author is telling his readers that for them to not trust God with what He says about Jesus’ coming kingdom is sinful; however, we are also given encouraging direction on how to combat our unbelief:

Hebrews 3:13-14
But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.  For we have become companions of the Messiah if we hold firmly until the end the confidence that we had at the start.

Our initial confidence in Christ came because we trusted Him with our eternal destiny when we believed Him – that He would take the punishment for our sins and reconcile us with God the Father.  If we apply that same type of confidence in His message (that our choices in this life have future, eternal impact), we will not only avoid a sinful, unbelieving heart but we will also become companions [Metochoi] with Christ and the administration of His future kingdom.

As an example, the author sites what happened after God rescued 2 million Israelites from Egypt:

Hebrews 3:15-19
As it is said:
               Today, if you hear His voice,
               do not harden your hearts
               as in the rebellion. 

For who heard and rebelled?  Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?  And with whom was He “provoked for 40 years”?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And to whom did He “swear that they would not enter His rest,” if not those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Same Greek word here for unbelief – after being rescued from the slavery of Egypt, those Israelites didn’t trust God with His plan for the coming kingdom.  The author then uses Israel’s unwillingness to act on what they knew of God as a warning for us:

Hebrews 4:1-2
Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short.  For we also have received the good news just as they did.  But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.

The generation that died in the desert was disqualified from participating in the future country of Israel established by Joshua because they did not trust the messenger God had sent.  They did not faithfully act on the message they had received from Moses.

We likewise have an opportunity to partner with the Greater Messenger – become His Metochoi – if we are willing to faithfully act on His message that we have received.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When we fall

In 2004, I moved my family to a new state, 1500 miles away from what we knew as home.  The job I was going to was one that I had done before, so I was completely confident that I could hit the ground running.  I was excited to use my skillset in a new environment and among new people.  Of course, before they turned me loose, I had a training program to complete.  What I thought was going to be no big deal ended up having a few bumps in the road.

Maybe it was the time off between jobs, maybe it was nervousness…but I found myself making little mistakes that either made it more difficult to complete the task at hand or it meant that the testing was invalid and had to be repeated.  Internally, I was getting really frustrated with myself.  Externally, I would make weak attempts at joking as I would blame the mistakes on me trying to “knock the rust off”.  But the mistakes kept happening at a pace that made me uncomfortable, and I knew people were watching.

I began to wonder if there was some “unofficial limit” as to how many mistakes I could make before they would just give up on me.  I was being brought in to not only perform testing and provide expertise, but I was also going to be leading my own team.  “How can a supposed leader make this many mistakes?” I worried.  We were new in town, without any family nearby.  What would happen to us if I continued to muck things up and my worst fear was realized?

After one particularly frustrating mistake, looked at my trainer and asked how many more of these was I allowed before they kicked me out.  She just laughed as she walked away and said, “Don’t worry, Ken.  We’re not going to throw you overboard.  We’ve invested too much money in you to do that.” 

Now to her, I’m sure it was just a minor comment.  Too me, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted.  And then I realized…she was right.  This company had paid for our move and given us three months of short-term housing – they had invested a lot in me and expected to get a return.  They were willing to put up with a few do-overs, especially in training, as I learned the ropes and re-focused my skills.  Because of their patience, I was able to succeed in a variety of roles for the company, even ones that I couldn’t have foreseen at that initial time.

We have the same worries in our relationship with God, don’t we?  Even after we trust Jesus with our eternal destiny, we’re still going to struggle with sin.  That’s just part of life as a redeemed human being.  But we often wonder…What if I screw up too many times?  What if I really blow it in a big way, with one of those “big” sins?  Will God just toss me aside, because that’s what I would deserve.

I love that God is a realist.

We like to sugar-coat our flaws and exaggerate our strengths, but He sees us exactly as we are.  He’s not surprised when we sin.  He knows we’re not going to live out this new life with Him perfectly.  He loves us and trains us like a perfect parent – with patience, support, and guidance.

In the middle of Psalm 37, David recognizes this truth. 

Psalm 37:23-24
A man’s steps are established by the Lord,
and He takes pleasure in his way.
Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed,
because the Lord holds his hand.

An accurate translation of the third line could also read, When he falls, he will not be cast aside.  God knows the path He wants us to walk with Him.  He truly delights in making the journey with us.  And when we fall, He is there to catch us.

Truthfully, He’s invested too much in us to just walk away.  Jesus, the most valuable person in the universe, paid for us to move into God’s family.  The Lord is holding our hand as we walk through this life, learning the ropes and developing our skills.  We are being prepared for life in Eternity Future.  God’s not going to give up on us here.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken